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Exploiting the Fourth Wall

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Taking advantage of a Split-Screen Phone Call

Some characters break the Fourth Wall just to acknowledge their universe's fictional nature and discuss the improbability of its laws. Some do it to have a chat with their creator or the audience, or even threaten them.

But others do it for a practical reason: they use elements from beyond the Fourth Wall to help them achieve some kind of in-universe goal. This is a supertrope to Reading Ahead in the Script, when they cheat to see what the plot has in store for them, and Ninja Prop, when elements of the medium itself are brought into the story.

A subtrope of Medium Awareness and Breaking the Fourth Wall. When this is initiated by the author, narrator, or audience instead of the characters, it comes From Beyond the Fourth Wall. See also No Fourth Wall, Fourth-Wall Observer.


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    Comic Books 
  • In one Deadpool comic, Deadpool beats up the writer of his own comic book in order to get the location of the person he was tracking down.
  • In one issue of She-Hulk, She-Hulk escapes from a trap by ripping a hole in the page, leading the other characters across two pages of ads, and ripping back into the story at a later point.
  • Real Screen Comics #42 featured Fauntleroy Fox of The Fox and the Crow fame revealing to Crawford Crow that he owned and read every issue of The Fox and the Crow comics, meaning he could see through any disguise he used previously. Crawford got around the genre-savviness by trying something new, and then threatening to move away without paying Fauntleroy and conning him out of 10 bucks to stay.
  • An Italian Disney comic features a scene where Mickey and Goofy have to cross a lava river. How they manage to do it? Goofy complains to the artist that he is making their quest too hard and he draws a bridge for them.
  • The Unbelievable Gwenpool always had shades of this by having the knowledge of a real world comic-book nerd, but then she gained full on Reality Warper abilities by way of Enlightenment Superpower. Her go-to technique is making use of "gutter space" (the space between and behind panels and pages) to quickly move around between pages of her own comic, hide and retrieve items, etc., but she's also capable of Ninja Prop, Perspective Magic tricks, and whatever the heck she can think of that involves playing with the comic-book layout.

    Fan Works 
  • In We Are All Pokémon Trainers, there are a few Pokémon aware that it is a story, and use it to break WAAPT's already very fragile fourth wall:
    • Anom's Volcarona is meta aware and uses that ability to avoid getting Ret-Gone when Cyrus resets the timeline during the AU Arc.
    • Gino, Lina's Salamence, uses the ability for multiversal travel, and in one case to free Team Umbra from a void between worlds during Glitchstuck Wars.
  • Scootertrix the Abridged: Pinkie Pie can create Plot Holes and invoke Offscreen Teleportation — she's basically a minor Reality Warper whenever the camera isn't on her. In Episode 7, she uses this to get herself and Fluttershy down from the mountain, and in Episode 16, she uses it to get movie tickets for herself and all her friends, even thought the movie was completely sold out.
    Pinkie Pie: Anything's possible with editing.
  • In Inaccurate Legends, Sir Not Appearing In This Film takes advantage of his story medium by changing his name to "Sir Not Appearing In This Fanfic", allowing him to avoid detection from Sir Bedivere.
  • In JoJopolis, Fred Gherkin uses his evolved stand, Everywhere At The End Of Time, to move between panels, stand on them and even use them as weapons.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh presents the stories like they're being read from a book. When Tigger gets stuck at the top of a tree, the Interactive Narrator gets him down by turning the book sideways so Tigger can stand on the text, then tilting the book so Tigger can slide down to the ground.
  • Looney Tunes: Back in Action has Bugs Bunny in Los Angeles contact Daffy Duck by cell phone. A split screen view of these two characters shows Daffy riding shotgun with DJ Drake en route to Las Vegas. Despite being in two different locales, the two characters manage to push the split screen boundary back and forth in a reverse Tug O' War.
  • In Turning Red, during the epilogue, Mei pulls the next shot into frame like she's sliding a door shut.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Monkees: In one episode, when the boys are in a seemingly impossible to escape situation, Micky exits the set and goes to the writers' room where he gets them to write their escape.
  • Odd Squad: In "Shapely University", Oprah and Olivia, after concluding their Split-Screen Phone Call, speak and shake hands with each other through the split-screen.
  • The season one finale of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law has Jennifer, who's been breaking the fourth wall throughout the show, get fed up with the way the story is going Off the Rails at the climax. She hulks out and busts through her show's thumbnail on the Disney+ main page to break into the Marvel Studios: Assembled thumbnail where she can confront the staff at Marvel Studios about getting her show back on track.
  • W Two Worlds: An In-Universe example. Sang-hoon, a murderer aware he's in a Manhwa, brainwashes its artist through his drawing tablet to get him to rewrite the comic world to his liking.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Nancy: This strip has Nancy try to sneak some cookies by tossing the jar to the next panel, where she catches it.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Guise in Sentinels of the Multiverse, being partly inspired by Deadpool, has a card where he clobbers an enemy with the card's keyword. One of his variants, Completionist Guise, has a power that lets you go back into the game box and swap out an active hero for his variant.

  • At the end of the first act of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum Pseudolus realizes he needs to stall and come up with a new plan as his current scheme starts falling apart. In order to buy time, he pleads with his accuser to allow him to defend himself, and is allowed to say one word: "Intermission."
  • Peter Pan: When Tinkerbell is injured, Peter asks the audience to clap to express their belief in fairies, telling them that their applause will save her life.
  • Avenue Q: When the residents of Avenue Q can't come up with nearly enough money to give to Kate Monster to fund the school she dreams of building, they go out into the audience to collect money. And they still don't come up with enough.

    Video Games 
  • In Bravely Default and Bravely Second, You, the player, are a tangible force within the game's world. The Big Bads of both games directly acknowledge your involvement with the party. This is taken to the furthest possible extreme in the second game, when you use the New Game Plus to derail the villain's plot completely.
  • In EarthBound (1994), Ness and his friends defeat Giygas by getting the entire world to unite in a prayer for his defeat. Then Paula asks you, the player, to join in. Effectively, you defeat Giygas just by wanting him dead badly enough.
  • In Fairy Fencer F, your player character Fang can talk with an NPC labeled by the game as a "bandit." When he calls him out as a bandit, he asks how he knew, thinking maybe he has some sort of inside information. Fang says that he read it on the screen.
  • Marvel vs. Capcom 3: If Deadpool is attacked during his Level 3 Hyper combo, he will bludgeon his opponent with his Health Bar and Hyper Meter.
  • In Them's Fightin' Herds, Shanty has the ability to leap onto walls, which she can use to dodge or attack. But as there's no logical "wall" to cling to, she instead clings to the sides of the screen, freezing the stage background in place until she gets off.
  • There Is No Game (and its sequel/expansion, Wrong Dimension): The entire gameplay is a dueling Interface Screw between the player and the narrator, with the player messing with various elements of the fourth wall to destroy other fourth wall obstacles the narrator puts in their way.
  • Let's just say this happens a lot in Undertale.

    Visual Novels 
  • Doki Doki Literature Club! utilizes this concept quite a bit, primarily through Monika. At various points, she gradually reprograms the game to be more to her liking, mainly attempting to break out of her role as The Not-Love Interest. One particular point has her present a poem to the player that is just a glitched display of red and green boxes, followed by her apologizing for it and awkwardly having the game proceed to the poem-sharing gameplay. If this scene is viewed in a fullscreen display, the glitched poem would seemingly crash the computer until Monika reappears to put everything back on track. The game's developer deliberately avoided looking at any media related to the aforementioned Undertale during development due to the similar use of metafictional concepts.
  • Head AS Code manages a dramatic variant of this trope in its Golden Ending: Empty S, the organization that created the deadly Dating Game, retroactively caused their own existence by creating an incident so fascinating that a player would want to read the entire visual novel and learn the full story behind it.

    Web Comics 

    Web Animation 
  • Animator vs. Animation: These videos are based on this trope. The stick figures interacts with everything from various applications' interfaces to icons on the desktop to system menus, trying to destroy the animator.
  • In Screw Attack's DEATH BATTLE! between Deadpool and Pinkie Pie, Deadpool, in response to Pinkie pie summoning a horde of clones, reaches outside the video panel, grabs the thumbs up/down meter, and uses it as a lightsaber to fend off the clones. Pinkie Pie's original, desperate to find some means of defending herself, grabs an ad that conveniently appears and blocks Deadpool's strike... causing Deadpool to suddenly stop the fight to ask, "You see those things too?"

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs has Genre Savvy Slappy making use of this at times, such as a scene from "Bumbie's Mommy" where her and her nephew Skippy are on an airplane and Skippy is having a bad case of airsickness. When he looks ready to throw up, Slappy hastily calls for a dissolve to the next scene to make him better.
    • Animaniacs (2020), in a Whole-Plot Reference to the below-mentioned "Duck Amuck", has a short in Season 2 titled "Yakko Amakko" that depicts Yakko being tormented by current principal animator Genevieve Tsai.
  • Looney Tunes does this several times.
    • In "Duck Amuck", a mysterious animator uses the Fourth Wall to torment Daffy Duck. At the end of the episode we discover the animator is Bugs Bunny.
    • This was repeated in "Rabbit Rampage" with Bugs Bunny as the victim and Elmer Fudd as the sadistic animator.
    • In another Bugs Bunny short, Bugs defeats the bad guy by breaking the film in order to escape a trap.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998): In one episode, Mojo Jojo kidnapped The Narrator so that he could narrate the episode instead, his narration forcing the Powerpuff Girls to do everything he described them doing.
  • Similarly, Chuckles the Silly Piggy from Dave the Barbarian once performed a Hostile Show Takeover by taking control of the Narrator's mind and taking his place as the one controlling the story.
  • The Pink Panther's Inspector Clouseau segments have an episode where the inspector told the artist to comply with law and put the criminal he was chasing behind bars.
  • In The Fairly OddParents!, this happens in-universe when the Nega-Chin, a villain from a comic book, goes to the writer's house and fights him to get him to write a story where he wins. Nothing ever comes of this even though the Crimson Chin gets revisited multiple times.
  • In the Danger Mouse episode "Once Upon A Time Slip," a microphone malfunction gives the Lemony Narrator near-absolute control of the story. He decides he'd rather tell a story about Robin Hood, so D.M. and co. wind up acting out a medieval costume epic until D.M. can trick the Narrator into putting things back to normal.
  • As part of its Fake Interactivity, on Blue's Clues, Steve or Joe would sometimes pass an object back or forth between them and the viewer(s).
  • Popeye:
    • In both A Date to Skate and How Green is My Spinach?, Popeye gets his can of spinach from a member of the theater audience.
    • In Goonland, Popeye and Poopdeck Pappy are saved from the Goons when the film breaks in two, and a pair of live-action hands stitches the film back together.
  • One episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy revolves entirely around this trope. Eddy reveals that he managed to swipe a Jawbreaker from Johnny 2X4 and tries to show how he did it with a flashback. However, Johnny and some of the other kids from the cul-de-sac begin hijacking the story one-by-one to tell stories of their own (also done in flashback) until the Eds get lost within the stories themselves, forcing them to try and find their way back to the start.
  • Spongebob Squarepants had an episode where Spongebob, desperate to tell Mr. Krabs something important, states that he knows a shortcut to the Krusty Krab to prompt a scene transition via a wave of bubbles. Spongebob's shortcut is jumping onto those bubbles to get carried into the next scene. A confused Mr. Krabs asks how he just appeared out of nowhere.


Video Example(s):


An Extremely Goofy Movie

Chuck actually knows the perfect way to literally zip his field reporter shut.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / ExploitingTheFourthWall

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